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Recipe by Fabrice Hardel, executive chef, Westgate Hotel.

I’ve been cooking since I was a teenager and have worked all over the world. I started cooking in France and then England and then worked in Luxembourg and Germany. I came to the U.S. in 1998 and have been at the Westgate Hotel for eight years.

I would say even though I am classically French trained, I take a lot of things from everywhere I have been traveling. I cook more California cuisine than French cuisine at the Westgate. The one thing I really like to cook is seafood because I am from the northwest of France right on the ocean, on the Channel. When I’m not working, I usually cook pasta. I like to cook at home because it’s family time and I prefer to have dinner at home more than going out because I work a lot. When it’s my day off I like to relax and not do so much.

I don’t think you can compare France and San Diego or say what is better or worse. They are just so different. In Europe I worked in smaller restaurants and since I have come to the U.S. I have worked in bigger hotels. That really changed my career. What I like most in California is what everyone likes — the weather. I really like the hotel industry, overall. It’s a fun job despite the long hours and working holidays and weekends. You just see so many different people.

I don’t believe that there is something I do best as a chef. I think every chef is different and has a different style of cooking. I do not believe one person could be the best. Different chefs have different influences. With cooking, I think it’s an evolution. You look at what a chef is doing ten years ago to what they are doing now. You always change your way of cooking. One thing I do is that I don’t try too much. I think a lot of people try to put so much on the plate. I believe that if you have a strong foundation and if you worked at the right place when you were young, you should be able to work the produce, the fish, and the meat. Then you should be able to combine everything pretty well. But if you don’t have your foundation, you can’t move forward.

The recipe below is a classic dish from France that I love to make at home and serve family style in a large pot. This is one of my wife’s favorites as well.

INGREDIENTS

Serves 4–6

Stock

  • 2 red snapper or any kind of rockfish (clean and reserve bones)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 leek, diced
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, diced
  • 3 T tomato paste
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 6 cups cold water
  • pinch saffron threads
  • pinch salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 15 fennel seeds
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme

Saffron Aioli

  • 2 baby Yukon gold potatoes
  • 2 cups fish stock (see above)
  • 1/4 tsp. saffron threads
  • pinch salt
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (more if needed)

Croutons

  • 1 baguette
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Bouillabaisse
  • 1 pound baby Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 3 leeks, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 4 scallops
  • 4 jumbo shrimp or lobster
  • 2 red snapper (reserved)

HOW TO DO IT

Fish Stock

Bone the snapper. (Most of the skeleton will come out in one piece with one slow, persistent tug with your fingers. Use a needle-nose pliers to remove remaining bones). Reserve the fish filets in the fridge to go into the fish stew. Wash the fish bones. In a large stockpot over low-medium heat, heat 1/2 cup of the oil. Sauté the fish bones slowly for about 7–8 minutes. Add the onion, leek, fennel, and tomato paste and sauté with the fish bones until they are translucent. Deglaze with the white wine and cook for about 5 minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate. Add the cold water. Season with saffron, salt, pepper, and parsley. Add the bay leaves, star anise, fennel seeds, and thyme.

Bring to a simmer, and simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring to mingle the flavors. Using a slotted spoon or strainer, discard the foam that rises to the surface. Do not boil or the impurities will be incorporated into the liquid. Remove the fish bones, crush them (e.g., in a blender, small food processor or clean coffee grinder), and return them to the pot and continue to cook down for about an hour or two until the stock is the desired flavor. Turn off the heat and let sit for 15 minutes. Drain the stock by pouring through a strainer lined with cheesecloth into a large bowl, then return the strained stock to the pot. (May be refrigerated a night or two until ready to continue.)

Saffron Aioli

Peel the potatoes and cook them in 2 cups of the fish stock, saffron, and a pinch of salt. When the potatoes are fork-tender, put them into the food processor with the 2 garlic cloves. Emulsify the potato with the oil by slowly pouring the oil in while the processor is running. Use more if needed to obtain a smooth consistency. Set aside in a serving dish until bouillabaisse is served.

Croutons

Heat oven to 275 degrees. Thinly slice the baguette and rub with 1 garlic clove and brush liberally with extra virgin olive oil. Place croutons on a baking sheet and allow them to cook for about 12 minutes. Set aside in a serving dish until bouillabaisse is done.

Bouillabaisse

Heat the oven to 325 degrees and peel and dice the potatoes. Place the potatoes in a medium pot and cover with fish stock. Cook slowly until the potatoes are fork-tender. In a medium sauté pan, heat the olive oil. Cut the tomato, fennel, leek, onion, and garlic into thin slices. In a medium sauté pan, heat oil, add vegetable mixture, and sauté in olive oil until softened. Pour about 3 cups of fish stock into an oven-safe dish and add the vegetables. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes. Cut all of the seafood into small pieces and season with salt and pepper. Add to the vegetable dish in the oven and bake for about 10–15 minutes, until the fish is cooked through.

Serve the dish as it is on the table, with the aioli and the croutons in separate dishes.

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